Sunday, February 18 , 2018, 3:59 pm | A Few Clouds 63º


St. Cecilia Society Helps Ease Financial Strain of Medical Care

The longtime Santa Barbara charity distributed $139,400 in 2009 to residents in need

The crisis in health care has made national headlines, while locally, the St. Cecilia Society has been quietly working for more than a century to provide funds for needed medical expenses.

Chartered in 1892, the St. Cecilia Society is the oldest charitable organization in Santa Barbara. Taking its name from the patron saint of music, the society began in 1891 when a group of Santa Barbara ladies formed a small orchestra and performed benefit concerts to raise money to assist patients at what was then the new Cottage Hospital.

On Friday, board president Ladeen Miller convened the 118th annual Meeting and Tea of the secular organization and continued its long tradition of helping people in need defray their hospital bills and other medical costs by announcing donations of $139,400 in donations for 2009 — an increase from $84,000 in donations for 2008.

Treasurer Mary Garton said 104 people were helped last year, with requests ranging from as low as $32 up to $6,800. Some of their stories, which board member Martha Osborne shared at Friday’s event, provide insight into why this group meets such a critical need for many residents of Santa Barbara County.

Four-year-old Tommy — whose name, along with others mentioned in case studies, has been changed to protect his privacy — was born with half a heart. The diagnostic name is hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

“When he was born, his mother had to leave work to take care of Tommy’s medical needs. Tommy’s open heart surgery at Children’s Hospital was covered by insurance from his father’s employment, but Tommy’s medications, X-rays, medical equipment and co-pays were not covered. The bills are adding up,” Osborne said. “The medical equipment bills were $752.70, but this was reduced by Sue Adams, St. Cecilia Society’s volunteer case investigator, to $120.”

An additional invoice from Sansum Clinic was $319.93, so the total amount needed to get them over the hard spot was $439.93, which the society paid.

Osborne read a thank-you note from Tommy’s family.

“’Dear society members,’ and you are society members,” she told the 160 supporters who gathered Friday at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. “‘Thank you so much for your help for Tommy. As you may know, he and we have been through a tremendously trying time for the past few years, and your help is greatly appreciated and makes our lives so much easier in dealing with all the strain a long hospital stay can bring. Love, Tommy and his parents.’”

The next person highlighted was Manuel, a 50-year-old married man with four children.

“He earns $1,400 per month and is trying to find a second job to pay for his emergency appendectomy and the attending costs of his medical bills,” Osborne said. “Two of his physicians have agreed to 50 percent reductions, and the procedure was also discounted. We were therefore able to pay the total amount requested, which is $2,779.50.”

The St. Cecilia Society also paid medical expenses for Mary, a 51-year-old woman who just completed treatment for breast cancer.

“She plans to return to her job as a waitress as soon as she is medically capable,” Osborne said. “Mary’s income and tips when she is working average between $1,900 and $2,000 a month. Now that she is on disability, her monthly income is $932 a month. Her rent is $825 per month. Her income is so low she qualified for federal assistance and they are paying her insurance premium. The Cancer Society has also come to her aid with patient’s assistance. Thus her medical expenses, after considerable discounting, totaled $3,899.05. This is another example of the extraordinary cooperation among the agencies that provide assistance to people in need.”

Osborne also read from Mary’s thank-you note: “This journey has been full of much stress. It also has brought many blessings of love and support of family as well as kindness and compassion from strangers. Your assistance has relieved much stress and has helped me to concentrate on getting well. I will be forever grateful and will pay your kindness forward.”

James is a 46-year-old married father of three children, Osborne said.

“Newly diagnosed with cancer, he is self-employed in the construction industry and has not worked since July of 2009. He will not be able to work for at least five months after his cancer surgery and treatment,” she said. “Although he has health insurance, there is a $3,500 added deductible. He has applied for assistance with part of his deductible along with medical bills from Cottage Hospital for the total amount of $2,288. The remainder of his bills will be sent to the Jefferson Endowment Fund for consideration, and the Cancer Society is also applying to an endowment fund for help with chemotherapy and assistance for 2010. Unfortunately, since he is self-employed, he is not eligible for federal assistance.

“His wife has been working to support the family, but adding to the family’s stress, his wife has malignant melanoma and is undergoing treatment. Cottage Hospital agreed to discount his bills, and the St. Cecilia’s board agreed to pay $1,760.61.”

The final case highlighted was Patricia, “a desperately poor woman who can no longer work because of her debilitating cancer and the ulcerated condition of her entire back, including the back of her head, legs and arms,” Osborne said. “She was the victim of a car accident and in a coma for a year. As she was not expected to live, her health-care workers did not turn her to prevent bedsores, and as a result, her ulcerated sores are extremely painful.”

She needs an alternating pressure mattress, available to her at a discounted price and of which the society contributed $900.

“Nothing and no one can express more clearly than these stories the need and the purpose of the St. Cecilia’s Society. Your membership and your continuing financial support is an act of love. Extending a membership to a friend or family member is a gift of love,” Osborne said.

Along with Osborne, Adams, Ladeen Miller and Mary Garton, the other board members — Ann Conway, Sallie Coughlin, Tish Gainey, Susan Johnson, Nikki Rickard, Heidi Rose and Marianne Sprague — were also recognized and honored for their service. Dr. Michael Fisher, founder of the Diabetes Resource Center of Santa Barbara County, was the keynote speaker.

Membership in the St. Cecilia Society is open to all. Click here for more information.

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